Vanderbilt drops non-conference matchup to UNLV 34-10

Vanderbilt was favored by 15.5 points, but the Commodores could not get into a rhythm on offense


Emily Goncalves

Vanderbilt faces UNLV on October 12, 2019.

Bobby Kent, Staff Writer

In front of a crowd of 20,048 on cold Saturday in Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodores (1-4) squared off against the UNLV Rebels (1-4) in the two programs’ first-ever meeting. The final score was not favorable to the Commodores, as they lost the matchup 34-10. 

Coming off a deflating 31-6 loss to the Ole Miss Rebels last weekend, the Commodores were hoping to right the ship against a different set of Rebels. 

Vanderbilt was searching for its 11th straight home non-conference win and had not dropped a game to a non-conference opponent at home since 2015 against Western Kentucky.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Commodores started strong and fast on the first drive of the game, scoring on an eight-play drive in less than three minutes. Quarterback Riley Neal found running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn for 53 yards on third down after Neal stepped up in the pocket and delivered a short pass to Vaughn, who then used his trademark elusiveness to pass by defenders. Neal was sharp, completing four of his seven passes for 72 yards on the drive that ultimately was capped off by Vaughn’s four-yard rushing TD. 

Vanderbilt could not, however, build off the momentum created by the offense on opening drive. The defense allowed a systematic 12-play, 75-yard march down the field which featured a roughing the passer penalty and a 26-yard run by UNLV running back Chad Maygar. UNLV broke through on a rush by running back Charles Williams who bounced off the edge for a touchdown to tie the game at seven apiece. 

The Commodores’ response was not very impactful. Neal tossed a pass over the middle on third down to set up offensive coordinator Gerry Gdowski’s aggressive decision to go for it on fourth-and-one near midfield. Luck was not on Vanderbilt’s side as a dropped pass led to a turnover on downs.

UNLV then took over after the turnover on downs and drove down the field, kicking a 44-yard field goal to break the tie and grab the lead at 10-7. 

Quarterback Deuce Wallace entered the game on the ensuing Vanderbilt possession in relief of Riley Neal. His trusty running back was the main story, however, as Vaughn broke off his first big run of the game – bursting down the middle for 43 yards. Those yards plus four additional yards courtesy of Vaughn would be all Vanderbilt would gain on the drive. To make matters worse, the Commodores did not come away with any points as kicker Ryley Guay missed a 46-yard field goal attempt short and to the right. 

UNLV took advantage of the missed kick and used that positive momentum to score quickly off a busted coverage by the Commodore defense, as quarterback Kenyon Oblad connected with wide receiver Randal Grimes on a 63-yard touchdown to increase the Rebels’ lead to 17-7. 

While wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb sat on the bench, the Vanderbilt offense and Deuce Wallace missed on three deep shots down the field. Later in the drive, Guay followed up on the earlier miss from 46 yards, and he tied his career long with with a 48-yard field goal to cut the UNLV lead to seven midway through the second quarter. 

The momentum did not last long, however, as the defense allowed three chunk plays of 15+ yards, and the UNLV offense successfully mixed a sequence of runs and passes to drive down the field. Ultimately, the 11-play drive was capped off by a touchdown pass to widen the lead to 24-10. 

Late in the first half, Riley Neal came back in at quarterback as the offense continued to struggle. UNLV’s defense keyed in on the run, which along with Neal’s relative inaccuracy on deep and intermediate passes, did the Commodores in. Boos came from the crowd as Vanderbilt headed into the half down 24-10. 

Head coach Derek Mason said, “Miscues and opportunities lost continue to plague us. It’s not coach speak, it’s just what it is right now.”

Vanderbilt came out of the second half with a key defensive stop. After the punt, Ke’Shawn Vaughn broke free for 34 yards on a draw to set up the Commodores in UNLV territory. The offense suffered from yet another dropped pass as Lipscomb, having re-entered the game on the drive, could not haul in a sure big gain on a crossing route. The Commodores ultimately had to punt on the drive. 

Late in the third quarter, Riley Neal made an ill-advised throw across the middle that was picked off by the Rebels and returned all the way down inside the red zone to Vanderbilt’s 11-yard line. UNLV could only muster a field goal out of the great field position, increasing their lead to 17, at 27-10 after three quarters of play. 

To start the fourth quarter, Vanderbilt got a spark from a holding penalty after wide receiver and return man Justice Shelton-Mosley returned UNLV’s kickoff 40 yards. The UNLV defense wreaked havoc on Riley Neal in the following plays, surrounding him as he rolled out of the pocket and forcing a fumble right into the hands of the defensive lineman in front of him. 

UNLV quickly converted the turnover into a touchdown to go ahead 34-10 and seal the game. 

Riley Neal finished the day 11-for-25 for 104 yards and one interception. Ke’Shawn Vaughn was Vanderbilt’s leading rusher with 15 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown.

With the loss, Vanderbilt drops to 1-5 and will play host to Missouri (4-1 overall, 1-0 in SEC) next weekend at home with a 3:00 pm scheduled kickoff.